Lee Evans Dies: Two-Time Gold Medal Winner And Protester At ’68 Mexico City Olympics Was 74

Lee Evans, who won two gold medals at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and was part of the Black protests against perceived US racism, died on Wednesday. He was 74 and no cause of death was revealed by the USA Track and Field organization, which did not provide further details.

But the San Jose Mercury News in Evans’s hometown quoted friends as saying that he died in a hospital in Nigeria after suffering a stroke. Evans allegedly collapsed at a friend’s dinner party last week, according to the news outlet.

Evans joined several other athletes in raising fists and wearing Black berets on the winners stand at Mexico City, considered a shocking political move at the time. Evans’s protest followed that of both American 200-meter sprint medalists, Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze), who raised fists in the air while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played and American flags were raised.

The protests have since become symbolic of the rise of Black power in the US, and became the story of those Olympics. Since then, other protests, including kneeling and raised fists, have become common at athletic events. In fact, the Tokyo Olympics has banned political protests at its events, although enforcement of that rule may be difficult.

Evans was one of several Black athletes who had threatened to boycott the Games. His protest at the games after Smith and Carlos was amplified since they were suspended and then expelled for life from the Olympics for their protest.

Evans briefly considered whether he should not participate in his two scheduled races — a 400-meter run two days later, and a 1,600-meter team relay three days after that.

But Carlos assured him to go ahead, and Evans went on to two golds and two world records. He won his first gold in the 400-meter in 43.86 seconds, a record that stood for 20 years, and his second gold anchoring the United States team in the 1,600-meter relay, run in 2 minutes 56.16 seconds, a record that lasted for 24 years.

In the 400-meter race, three Black Americans won, and all three wore black berets on the medal stand and raised their fists. However, they lowered them and removed the berets when the national anthem began and the American flags were raised.

Those actions were seen as conciliatory by the International Olympic Committee, which did not penalize or reprimand the three sprinters.

The members of the 1,600-meter relay American team staged no demonstration during the awards ceremony, although Evans refused to shake hands with an Olympic official.

Evans’s career continued after the 1968 Olympics. He won the United States national championships in 1969 and 1972, but finished fourth in the 1972 Olympic trials. He was selected for the 1,600-meter relay at the 1972 Munich Games, but the United States did not field a team.

After his career, Evans coached track-and-field teams in the United States, Africa and the Middle East for many years. He was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in Manhattan in 1983 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs in 1989.

Evans graduated from San Jose State in 1970 and from 1972 to 1974 competed in the International Track Association, a short-lived professional circuit.

Details on survivors and memorial plans was not immediately available.

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